There was no more tremor in his voice than in the measured beat of a base drum; and in his granite face not a feature moved, not a muscle twitched, not a nerve quivered.
So entirely unexpected was this proposal that Edna could not utter a word. The idea that he could ever wish to marry anybody seemed incredible, and that he should need her society appeared utterly absurd. For an instant she wondered if she had fallen asleep in the soft, luxurious corner of the carriage, and dreamed it all.
Completely bewildered, she sat looking wonderingly at him.
"Miss Earl, you do not seem to comprehend me, and yet my words are certainly very explicit. Once more I ask you, can you put your hand in mine and be my wife?"
He laid one hand on hers, and with the other pushed back his glasses.
Withdrawing her hands, she covered her face with them, and answered almost inaudibly:
"Let me think—for you astonish me."
"Take a day, or a week, if necessary, for consideration, and then give me your answer."
Mr. Manning leaned back in the carriage, folded his hands, and looked quietly out of the window; and for a half hour silence reigned.
Brief but sharp was the struggle in Edna's heart. Probably no woman's literary vanity and ambition has ever been more fully gratified than was hers, by this most unexpected offer of marriage from one whom she had been taught to regard as the noblest ornament of the profession she had selected. Thinking of the hour when she sat alone, shedding tears of mortification and bitter disappointment over his curt letter rejecting her MS., she glanced at the stately form beside her, the mysteriously calm, commanding face, the large white, finely moulded hands, waiting to clasp hers for all time, and her triumph seemed complete.
To rule the destiny of that strong man, whose intellect was so influential in the world of letters, was a conquest of which, until this hour, she had never dreamed; and the blacksmith's darling was, after all, a mere woman, and the honor dazzled her.
To one of her peculiar temperament wealth offered no temptation; but Douglass Manning had climbed to a grand eminence, and, looking up at it, she knew that any woman might well be proud to share it.
He filled her ideal, he came fully up to her lofty moral and mental standard. She knew that his superior she could never hope to meet, and her confidence in his integrity of character was boundless.
She felt that his society had become necessary to her peace of mind; for only in his presence was it possible to forget her past. Either she must marry him, or live single, and work and die—alone.
To a girl of nineteen the latter alternative seems more appalling than to a woman of thirty, whose eyes have grown strong in the gray, cold, sunless light of confirmed old-maidenhood; even as the vision of those who live in dim caverns requires not the lamps needed by new-comers fresh from the dazzling outer world.
Edna was weary of battling with precious memories of that reckless, fascinating cynic whom, without trusting, she had learned to love; and she thought that, perhaps, if she were the wife of Mr. Manning, whom without loving she fully trusted, it would help her to forget St. Elmo.
She did not deceive herself; she knew that, despite her struggles and stern interdicts, she loved him as she could never hope to love any one else. Impatiently she said to herself:
"Mr. Murray is as old as Mr. Manning, and in the estimation of the public is his inferior. Oh! why can not my weak, wayward heart follow my strong, clear-eyed judgment? I would give ten years of my life to love Mr. Manning as I love—"
She compared a swarthy, electrical face, scowling and often repulsively harsh, with one cloudless and noble, over which brooded a solemn and perpetual peace; and she almost groaned aloud in her chagrin and self-contempt, as she thought, "Surely, if ever a woman was infatuated—possessed by an evil spirit—I certainly am."
In attempting to institute a parallel between the two men, one seemed serene, majestic, and pure as the vast snowdome of Oraefa, glittering in the chill light of midsummer-midnight suns; the other fiery, thunderous, destructive as Izalco—one moment crowned with flames and lava-lashed—the next wrapped in gloom and dust and ashes.
While she sat there wrestling as she had never done before, even on that day of trial in the church, memory, as if leagued with Satan, brought up the image of Mr. Murray as he stood pleading for himself, for his future. She heard ish, querulous, and it was after midnight when she laid her head on her pillow. The milkmen in their noisy carts were clattering along the streets next morning, before her heavy eyelids closed, and she fell into a brief, troubled slumber; over which flitted a Fata Morgana of dreams, where the central figure was always that tall one whom she had seen last standing at the railroad station with the rain dripping over him. single all these years I would ultimately marry a woman for whom I had no affection? You spoke last week of the mirror of John Galeazzo Visconte, which showed his beloved Correggia her own image; and though I am a proud and reticent man, I beg you to believe that could you look into my heart you would find it such a mirror. Permit me to ask whether you intend to accept the love which I have reason to believe Mr. Murray has offered you?"
"Mr. Manning, I never expect to marry any one, for I know I shall never meet your superior, and yet I can not accept your most flattering offer. You fill all my requirements of noble, Christian manhood; but after to-day this subject must not be alluded to."
"Are you not too hasty? Will you not take more time for reflection? Is your decision mature and final?"
"Yes, Mr. Manning—final, unchangeable. But do not throw me from you! I am very, very lonely, and you surely will not forsake me?"
There were tears in her eyes as she looked up pleadingly in his face, and the editor sighed and paused a moment before he replied:
"Edna, if under any circumstances you feel that I can aid or advise you, I shall be exceedingly glad to render all the assistance in my power. Rest assured I shall not forsake you as long as we both shall live. Call upon me without hesitation, and I will respond as readily and promptly as to the claims of my little Lila. In my heart you are associated with her. You must not tax yourself so unremittingly, or you will soon ruin your constitution. There is a weariness in your face and a languor in your manner mournfully prophetic of failing health. Either give up your situation s governess or abandon your writing. I certainly recommend the former, as I can not spare you from 'Maga.'"
Here the carriage stopped at Mrs. Andrews's door, and as he handed her out Mr. Manning said:
"Edna, my friend, promise me that you will not write to-night."
"Thank you, Mr. Manning; I promise."
She did not go to her desk; but Felix was restless, fever once more his thrilling, passionate cry, "Oh, my darling' my darling! come to me!" And pressing her face to the lining of the carriage to stifle a groan, she seemed to feel again the close clasp of his arms, the throbbing of his heart against her cheek, the warm, tender, lingering pressure of his lips on hers.
When they had crossed the ferry and were rattling over the streets of New York, Edna took her hands from her eyes; and there was a rigid paleness in her face and a mournful hollowness in her voice, as she said almost sorrowfully:
"No, Mr Manning! We do not love each other, and I can never be your wife. It is useless for me to assure you that I am flattered by your preference, that I am inexpressibly proud of the distinction you have generously offered to confer upon me. Sir, you can not doubt that I do most fully and gratefully appreciate this honor, which I had neither the right to expect nor the presumption to dream of. My reverence and admiration are, I confess, almost boundless, but I find not one atom of love; and an examination of my feelings satisfies me that I could never yield you that homage of heart, that devoted affection which God demands that every wife should pay her husband. You have quite as little love for me. We enjoy each other's society because our pursuits are similar, our tastes congenial, our aspirations identical. In pleasant and profitable companionship we can certainly indulge as heretofore, and it would greatly pain me to be deprived of it in future, but this can be ours without the sinful mockery of a marriage—for such I hold a loveless union. I feel that I must have your esteem and your society, but your love I neither desire nor ever expect to possess; for the sentiments you cherish for me are precisely similar to those which I entertain toward you. Mr. Manning, we shall always be firm friends, but nothing more."
An expression of surprise and disappointment drifted across, but did not settle on the editor's quiet countenance.
Turning to her, he answered with grave gentleness:
"Judge your own heart, Edna; and accept my verdict with reference to mine. Do you suppose that after living
"Let thy abundant blessing rest upon it, O Almighty God! else indeed my labor will be in vain. 'Paul planted, Apollos watered, but thou only can give the increase.' It is finished; look down in mercy, and sanctify it, and accept it."
The night was almost spent when Edna laid down her pen, and raised her clasped hands over the MS., which she had just completed.
For many weary months she had toiled to render it worthy of its noble theme, had spared neither time nor severe trains of thought; by day and by night she had searched and pondered; she had prayed fervently and ceaselessly, and worked arduously, unflaggingly to accomplish this darling hope of her heart, to embody successfully this ambitious dream, and at last the book was finished.
The manuscript was a mental tapestry, into which she had woven exquisite shades of thought, and curious and quaint devices and rich, glowing imagery that necked the groundwork with purple and amber and gold.
But would the design be duly understood and appreciated by the great, busy, bustling world, for whose amusement and improvement she had labored so assiduously at the spinning-wheels of fancy—the loom of thought? Would her fellow-creatures accept it in the earnest, loving spirit in which it had been manufactured? Would they hang this Gobelin of her brain along the walls of memory, and turn to it tenderly, reading reverently its ciphers and its illuminations; or would it be rent and ridiculed, and trampled under foot? This book was a shrine to which her purest thoughts, her holiest aspirations travelled like pilgrims, offering the best of which her nature was capable. Would those for whom she had patiently chiselled and built it guard and prize and keep it; or smite and overturn and defile it?
Looking down at the mass of MS. now ready for the printer, a sad, tender, yearning expression filled the author's eyes; and her little white hands passed caressingly over its closely-written pages, as a mother's soft fingers might lovingly stroke the face of a child about to be thrust out into a hurrying crowd of cold, indifferent strangers, who perhaps would rudely jeer at and browbeat her darling.
For several days past Edna had worked hard to complete the book, and now at last she could fold her tired hands, and rest her weary brain.
But outraged nature suddenly swore vengeance, and her overworked nerves rose in fierce rebellion, refusing to be calm. She had so long anticipated this hour that its arrival was greeted by emotions beyond her control. As she contemplated the possible future of that pile of MS., her heart bounded madly, and then once more a fearful agony seized her, and darkness and a sense of suffocation came upon her. Rising, she strained her eyes and groped her way toward the window, but ere she reached it fell, and lost all consciousness.
The sound of the fall, the crash of a china vase which her hand had swept from the table, echoed startlingly through the silent house, and aroused some of its inmates. Mrs. Andrews ran upstairs and into Felix's room, saw that he was sleeping soundly, and then she hastened up another flight of steps, to the apartment occupied by the governess. The gas burned dazzlingly over the table where rested the roll of MS. and on the floor near the window lay Edna.
Ringing the bell furiously to summon her husband, and the servants, Mrs. Andrews knelt, raised the girl's head, and rubbing her cold hands, tried to rouse her. The heart beat faintly, and seemed to stop now and then, and the white, rigid face was as ghastly as if the dread kiss of Samael had indeed been pressed upon her still lips.
Finding all her restoratives ineffectual, Mrs. Andrews sent her husband for the family physician, and with the assistance of the servants, laid the girl on her bed.
When the doctor arrived and questioned her, she could furnish no clew to the cause of the attack, save by pointing to the table, where pen and paper showed that the sufferer had been at work.
Edna opened her eyes at last, and looked around at the group of anxious faces, but in a moment the spasm of pain returned. Twice she muttered something, and putting his ear close to her mouth, the doctor heard her whispering to herself:
"Never mind; it is done at last! Now I can rest."
An hour elapsed before the paroxysms entirely subsided, and then, with her ivory-like hands clasped and thrown up over her head, the governess slept heavily, dreamlessly.
For two days she remained in her own apartment, and on the morning of the third came down to the schoolroom, with a slow, weary step and a bloodless face, and a feeling of hopeless helplessness.
She dispatched her MS. to the publisher to whom she had resolved to offer it, and, leaning far back in her chair, took up Felix's Greek grammar.
Since the days of Dionysius Thrax, it had probably never appeared so tedious, so intolerably tiresome, as she found it now, and she felt relieved, almost grateful when Mrs. Andrews sent for her to come to the library, where Dr. Howell was waiting to see her.
Seating himself beside her, the physician examined her countenance and pulse, and put his ear close to her heart.
"Miss Earl, have you had many such attacks as the one whose effects have not yet passed away?"
"This is the second time I have suffered so severely; though very frequently I find a disagreeable fluttering about my heart, which is not very painful."
"What mode of treatment have you been following?"
"None, sir. I have never consulted a physician."
"Humph! Is it possible?"
He looked at her with the keen, incisive eye of his profession, and pressed his ear once more to her heart, listening to the irregular and rapid pulsations.
"Miss Earl, are you an orphan?"
"Have you any living relatives?"
"None that I ever heard of."
"Did any of your family die suddenly?"
"Yes, I have been told that my mother died while apparently as well as usual, and engaged in spinning; and my grandfather I found dead, sitting in his rocking-chair, smoking his pipe."
Dr. Howell cleared his throat, sighed and was silent.
He saw a strange, startled expression leap into the large shadowy eyes, and the mouth quivered, the wan face grew whiter, and the thin fingers grasped each other; but she said nothing, and they sat looking at one another.
The physician had come like Daniel to the banquet of life, and solved for the Belshazzar of youth the hideous riddle scrawled on the walls.
"Dr. Howell, can you do nothing for me?"
Her voice had sunk to a whisper, and she leaned eagerly forward to catch his answer.
"Miss Earl, do you know what is meant by hypertrophy of the heart?"
"Yes, yes, I know."
She shivered slightly.
"Whether you inherited your disease, I am not prepared to say, but certainly in your case there are some grounds for the belief."
Presently she said abstractedly:
"But grandpa lived to be an old man."
The doctor's eyes fell upon the mosaic floor of the library; and then she knew that he could give her no hope.
When at last he looked up again, he saw that she had dropped her face in her palms, and he was awed by the deathlike repose of her figure, the calm fortitude she evinced.
"Miss Earl, I never deceive my patients. It is useless to dose you with medicine, and drug you into semi-insensibility. You must have rest and quiet; rest for mind as well as body; there must be no more teaching or writing. You are overworked, and incessant mental labor has hastened the approach of a disease which, under other circumstances, might have encroached very slowly and imperceptibly. If latent (which is barely possible) it has contributed to a fearfully rapid development. Refrain from study, avoid all excitement, exercise moderately but regularly in the open air; and, above all things, do not tax your brain. If you carefully observe these directions you may live to be as old as your grandfather. Heart diseases baffle prophecy, and I make no predictions."
He rose and took his hat from the table.
"Miss Earl, I have read your writings with great pleasure, and watched your brightening career with more interest than I ever felt in any other female author; and God knows it is exceedingly painful for me to tear away the veil from your eyes. From the first time you were pointed out to me in church, I saw that in your countenance which distressed and alarmed me; for its marble pallor whispered that your days were numbered. Frequently I have been tempted to come and expostulate with you, but I knew it would be useless. You have no reader who would more earnestly deplore the loss of your writings, but, for your own sake, I beg you to throw away your pen and rest."
She raised her head and a faint smile crept feebly across her face.
"Rest! rest! If my time is so short I can not afford to rest. There is so much to do, so much that I have planned, and hoped to accomplish. I am only beginning to learn how to handle my tools, my life-work is as yet barely begun. When my long rest overtakes me, I must not be found idly sitting with folded hands. Since I was thirteen years old I have never once rested; and now I am afraid I never shall. I would rather die working than live a drone."
"But, my dear Miss Earl, those who love you have claims upon you."
"I am alone in this world. I have no family to love me, and my work is to me what I suppose dear relatives must be to other women. For six years I have been studying to fit myself for usefulness, have lived with and for books; and though I have a few noble and kind friends, do you suppose I ever forget that I am kinless? It is a mournful thing to know that you are utterly isolated among millions of human beings; that not a drop of your blood flows in any other veins. My God only has a claim upon me. Dr. Howell, I thank you for your candor. It is best that I should know the truth; and I am glad that, instead of treating me like a child, you have frankly told me all. More than once I have had a singular feeling, a shadowy presentiment that I should not live to be an old woman, but I thought it the relic of childish superstition, and I did not imagine that—that I might be called away at any instant. I did not suspect that just as I had arranged my workshop, and sharpened all my tools, and measured off my work, that my morning sun would set suddenly in the glowing east, and the long, cold night fall upon me, 'wherein no man can work'—"
Her voice faltered and the physician turned away, and looked out of the window.
"I am not afraid of death, nor am I so wrapped up in the mere happiness which this world gives; no, no; but I love my work! Ah! I want to live long enough to finish something grand and noble, something that will live when the hands that fashioned it have crumbled back to dust; something that will follow me across and beyond the dark, silent valley; something that can not be hushed and straightened and bandaged and screwed down under my coffin-lid—oh! something that will echo in eternity! that grandpa and I can hear 'sounding down the ages,' making music for the people, when I go to my final rest! And, please God! I shall! I will! Oh, doctor! I have a feeling here which assures me I shall be spared till I finish my darling scheme. You know Glanville said, and Poe quoted, 'Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.' Mine is strong, invincible; it will sustain me for a longer period than you seem to believe. The end is not yet. Doctor, do not tell people what you have told me. I do not want to be watched and pitied, like a doomed victim who walks about the scaffold with a rope already around his neck. Let the secret rest between you and me."
He looked wonderingly at the electric white face, and something in its chill radiance reminded him of the borealis light, that waves its ghostly banners over a cold midnight sky.
"God grant that I may be in error concerning your disease; and that threescore years and ten may be alloted you, to embody the airy dreams you love so well. I repeat, if you wish to prolong your days, give yourself more rest. I can do you little good; still, if at any time you fancy that I can aid or relieve you, do not hesitate to send for me. I shall come to see you as a friend, who reads and loves all that has yet fallen from your pen. God help and bless you, child!"
As he left the room she locked the door, and walked slowly back to the low mantelpiece. Resting her arms on the black marble, she laid her head down upon them, and ambition and death stared face to face, and held grim parley over the coveted prey.
Taking the probable measure of her remaining days, Edna fearlessly fronted the future, and pondered the possibility of crowding into two years the work which she had designed for twenty.
To tell the girl to "rest," was a mockery; the tides of thought ebbed and flowed as ceaselessly as those of ocean, and work had become a necessity of her existence. She was far, far beyond the cool, quiet palms of rest, far out on the burning sands; and the Bahr-Sheitan rippled and glittered and beckoned, and she panted and pressed on.
One book was finished, but before she had completed it the form and features of another struggled in her busy brain, and she longed to put them on paper.
The design of the second book appeared to her partial eyes almost perfect, and the first seemed insignificant in comparison. Trains of thought that had charmed her, making her heart throb and her temples flush; and metaphors that glowed as she wrote them down, ah! how tame and trite all looked now, in the brighter light of a newer revelation! The attained, the achieved tarnished in her grasp. All behind was dun; all beyond clothed with a dazzling glory that lured her on.
Once the fondest hopes of her heart had been to finish the book now in the publisher's hands; but ere it could be printed, other characters, other aims, other scenes usurped her attention. If she could only live long enough to incarnate the new ideal!
Moreover, she knew that memory would spring up and renew its almost intolerable torture the moment that she gave herself to aimless reveries; and she felt that her sole hope of peace of mind, her only rest, was in earnest and unceasing labor. Subtle associations, merciless as the chains of Bonnivard, bound her to a past which she was earnestly striving to forget; and she continually paced as far off as her shackles would permit, sternly refusing to sit down meekly at the foot of the stake. She worked late at night until her body was exhausted, because she dreaded to lie awake, tossing helplessly on her pillow; haunted by precious recollections of days gone by forever.
Her name was known in the world of letters, her reputation was already enviable; extravagant expectations were entertained concerning her future; and to maintain her hold on public esteem, to climb higher, had become necessary for her happiness.
Through Mr. Manning's influence and friendship she was daily making the acquaintance of leading men in literature, and their letters and conversation stimulated her to renewed exertion.
Yet she had never stooped to conciliate popular prejudices, had never written a line which her conscience did not dictate and her religious convictions sanction; had bravely attacked some of the pet vices and shameless follies of society, and had never penned a page without a prayer for guidance from on High.
Now in her path rose God's Reaper, swinging his shining sickle, threatening to cut off and lay low her budding laurel wreath.
While she stood silent and motionless in the quiet library, the woman's soul was wrestling with God for permission to toil a little while longer on earth, to do some good for her race, and to assist in saving a darkened soul almost as dear to her as her own.
She never knew how long that struggle for life lasted; but when the prayer ended, and she lifted her face, the shadows and the sorrowful dread had passed away, and the old calm, the old sweet, patient smile reigned over pale, worn features.
Early in July, Felix's feeble health forced his mother to abandon her projected tour to the White Mountains; and in accordance with Dr. Howell's advice, Mr. Andrews removed his family to a seaside summer-place, which he had owned for some years, but rarely occupied, as his wife preferred Newport, Saratoga, and Nahant.
The house at the "Willows" was large and airy, the ceilings were high, windows wide, and a broad piazza, stretching across the front, was shaded by two aged and enormous willows, that stood on either side of the steps, and gave a name to the place.
The fresh matting on the floors, the light cane sofa and chairs, the white muslin curtains and newly-painted green blinds imparted an appearance of delicious coolness and repose to the rooms; and while not one bright-hued painting was visible, the walls were hung with soft, gray, misty engravings of Landseer's pictures, framed in carved ebony and rosewood and oak.
The gilded splendor of the Fifth Avenue house was left behind; here simplicity and quiet comfort held sway. Even the china wore no glitter, but was enamelled with green wreaths of vine-leaves; and the vases held only plumy ferns, fresh and dewy.
Low salt meadow-lands extended east and west, waving fields of corn stretched northward, and the slight knoll on which the building stood sloped smoothly down to the ever-moaning, foam-fretted bosom of the blue Atlantic.
To the governess and her pupils the change from New York heat and bustle to seaside rest, was welcome and delightful; and during the long July days, when the strong ocean breeze tossed aside the willow boughs, and swept through the rustling blinds, and lifted the hair on Edna's hot temples, she felt as if she had indeed taken a new lease on life.
For several weeks her book had been announced as in press, and her publishers printed most flattering circulars, which heightened expectation, and paved the way for its favorable reception. Save the first chapter, rejected by Mr. Manning long before, no one had seen the MS., and while the reading public was on the qui vive, the author was rapidly maturing the plot of a second work.
Finally, the book was bound; editors' copies winged their way throughout the country; the curious eagerly supplied themselves with the latest publication; and Edna's destiny as an author hung in the balance.
It was with strange emotions that she handled the copy sent to her, for it seemed indeed a part of herself. She knew that her own heart was throbbing in its pages, and wondered whether the great world- pulses would beat in unison.
Instead of a preface she had quoted on the title-page those pithy lines in "Aurora Leigh":
"My critic Belfair wants a book Entirely different, which will sell and live; A striking book, yet not a startling book—The public blames originalities. You must not pump spring-water unawares Upon a gracious public full of nerves—Good things, not subtle—new, yet orthodox; As easy reading as the dog-eared page That's fingered by said public fifty years, Since first taught spelling by its grandmother, And yet a revelation in some sort: That's hard, my critic Belfair!"
Now, as Edna nestled her fingers among the pages of her book, a tear fell and moistened them, and the unvoiced language of her soul was, "Grandpa! do you keep close enough to me to read my book? Oh! do you like it? are you satisfied? Are you proud of your poor little Pearl?"
The days were tediously long while she waited in suspense for the result of the weighing in editors' sanctums, for the awful verdict of the critical Sanhedrim. A week dragged itself away; and the severity of the decree might have entitled it to one of those slips of blue paper upon which Frederick the Great required his courts to inscribe their sentences of death. Edna learned the full import of the words:
"He that writes, Or makes a feast, more certainly invites His judges than his friends; there's not a guest But will find something wanting or ill-drest."
Newspapers pronounced the book a failure. Some sneered in a gentlemanly manner, employing polite phraseology; others coarsely caricatured it. Many were insulted by its incomprehensible erudition; a few growled at its shallowness. To-day there was a hint at plagiarism; to-morrow an outright, wholesale theft was asserted. Now she was a pedant; and then a sciolist. Reviews poured in upon her thick and fast; all found grievous faults, but no two reviewers settled on the same error. What one seemed disposed to consider almost laudable the other denounced violently. One eminently shrewd, lynx-eyed editor discovered that two of her characters were stolen from a book which Edna had never seen; and another, equally ingenious and penetrating, found her entire plot in a work of which she had never heard; while a third, shocked at her pedantry, indignantly assured her readers that they had been imposed upon, that the learning was all "picked up from encyclopaedias"; whereat the young author could not help laughing heartily, and wondered why, if her learning had been so easily gleaned, her irate and insulted critics did not follow her example.
The book was for many days snubbed, buffeted, browbeaten; and the care fully-woven tapestry was torn into shreds and trampled upon; and it seemed that the patiently sculptured shrine was overtured and despised and desecrated.
Edna was astonished. She knew that her work was not perfect, but she was equally sure that it was not contemptible. She was surprised rather than mortified, and was convinced, from the universal howling, that she had wounded more people than she dreamed were vulnerable.
She felt that the impetuosity and savageness of the attacks must necessitate a recoil; and though it was difficult to be patient under such circumstances, she waited quietly, undismayed by the clamor.
Meantime the book sold rapidly, the publishers could scarcely supply the demand; and at last Mr. Manning's Magazine appeared, and the yelping pack of Dandie Dinmont's pets—Auld Mustard and Little Mustard, Auld Pepper and Little Pepper, Young Mustard and Young Pepper, stood silent and listened to the roar of the lion.
The review of Edna's work was headed by that calm retort of Job to his self-complacent censors, "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you"; and it contained a withering rebuke to those who had so flippantly essayed to crush the young writer.
Mr. Manning handled the book with the stern impartiality which gave such value to his criticisms—treating it as if it had been written by an utter stranger.
He analyzed it thoroughly; and while pointing out some serious errors which had escaped all eyes but his, he bestowed upon a few passages praise which no other American writer had ever received from him, and predicted that they would live when those who attempted to ridicule them were utterly forgotten in their graves.
The young author was told that she had not succeeded in her grand aim, because the subject was too vast for the limits of a novel, and her acquaintance with the mythologies of the world was not sufficiently extensive or intimate. But she was encouraged to select other themes more in accordance with the spirit of the age in which she lived; and the assurance was given to her, that her writings were destined to exert a powerful influence on her race. Some faults of style were gravely reprimanded, some beauties most cordially eulogized and held up for the admiration of the world.
Edna had as little literary conceit as personal vanity; she saw and acknowledged the errors pointed out by Mr. Manning, and resolved to avoid them in future. She felt that some objections urged against her book were valid, but knew that she was honest and earnest in her work, and could not justly be accused of trifling.
Gratefully and joyfully she accepted Mr. Manning's verdict, and turned her undivided attention upon her new manuscript.
While the critics snarled, the mass of readers warmly approved; and many who did not fully appreciate all her arguments and illustrations, were at least clear-eyed enough to perceive that it was their misfortune, not her fault.
Gradually the book took firm hold on the affections of the people; and a few editors came boldly to the rescue, and ably championed it.
During these days of trial, Edna could not avoid observing one humiliating fact, that saddened without embittering her nature. She found that instead of sympathizing with her, she received no mercy from authors, who, as a class, out-Heroded Herod in their denunciations, and left her little room to doubt that—
"Envy's a sharper spur than pay, And unprovoked 'twill court the fray; No author ever spared a brother; Wits are gamecocks to one another."
"Miss Earl, you promised that as soon as I finished the 'Antiquary' you would read me a description of the spot which Sir Walter Scott selected for the scene of his story. We have read the last chapter; now please remember your promise."
"Felix, in your hunger for books you remind me of the accounts given of cormorants. The 'Antiquary' ought to satisfy you for the present, and furnish food for thought that would last at least till to- morrow; still, if you exact an immediate fulfillment of my promise, I am quite ready to comply."
Edna took from her workbasket a new and handsomely illustrated volume, and read Bertram's graphic description of Auchmithie and the coast of Forfarshire.
Finding that her pupils were deeply interested in the "Fisher Folk," she read on and on; and when she began the pathetic story of the widow at Prestonpans, Hattie's eyes widened with wonder, and Felix's were dim with tears:
"We kent then that we micht look across the sea; but ower the waters would never blink the een that made sunshine around our hearths; ower the waters would never come the voices that were mair delightfu' than the music o' the simmer winds, when the leaves gang dancing till they sang. My story, sir, is dune. I hae nae mair tae tell. Sufficient and suffice it till say, that there was great grief at the Pans—Rachel weeping for her weans, and wouldna be comforted. The windows were darkened, and the air was heavy wi' sighin' and sabbin'."
The governess closed the book, laid it back in her basket, and raising the lid of the piano, she sang that sad, wailing lyric of Kingsley's, "The Three Fishers."
It was one of those rare and royal afternoons late in August, when summer, conscious that her reign is well-nigh ended, gathers all her gorgeous drapery, and proudly robes the world in regal pomp and short-lived splendor. Pearly cloud islets, with silver strands, clustered in the calm blue of the upper air; soft, salmon-hued cumulus masses sailed solemnly along the eastern horizon— atmospheric ships freighted in the tropics with crystal showers for thirsty fields and parched meadows—with snow crowns for Icelandic mountain brows, and shrouds of sleet for mouldering masts, tossed high and helpless on desolate Arctic cliffs. Restless gulls flashed their spotless wings, as they circled and dipped in the shining waves; and in the magic light of evening, the swelling canvas of a distant sloop glittered like plate-glass smitten with sunshine. A strong, steady, southern breeze curled and crested the beautiful, bounding billows, over which a fishing-smack danced like a gilded bubble; and as the aged willows bowed their heads, it whispered messages from citron, palm, and orange groves, gleaming far, far away under the white fire of the Southern Crown. Strange tidings these "winged winds" waft over sea and land; and to-day, listening to low tones that traveled to her from Le Bocage, Edna looked out over the ever-changing, wrinkled face of the ocean, and fell into a reverie.
Silence reigned in the sitting-room; Hattie fitted a new tarlatan dress on her doll, and Felix was dreaming of Prestonpans.
The breeze swept over the cluster of Tuscan jasmine and the tall, snowy phlox nodding in the green vase on the table, and shook the muslin curtains till light and shadow chased each other like waves over the noble Longhi engraving of Raphael's "Vision of Ezekiel," which hung just above the piano. After a while Felix took his chin from the windowsill, and his eyes from the sparkling, tossing water, and his gaze sought the beloved countenance of his governess.
"The mouth with steady sweetness set, And eyes conveying unaware The distant hint of some regret That harbored there."
Her dress was of white mull, with lace gathered around the neck and wristbands; a delicate fringy fern leaf was caught by the cameo that pinned the lace collar, and around the heavy coil of hair at the back of her head, Hattie had twined a spray of scarlet tecoma.
Save the faint red on her thin, flexible lips, her face was as stainless as that of the Hebrew Mary, in a carved ivory "Descent from the Cross," which hung over the mantelpiece.
As the boy watched her he thought the beautiful eyes were larger and deeper, and burned more brilliantly than ever before and the violet shadows beneath them seemed to widen day by day, telling of hard study and continued vigils. Pale and peaceful, patiently sad, without a trace of bitterness or harshness, her countenance might have served as a model for some which Ary Scheffer dimly saw in his rapt musings over "Wilhelm Meister."
"Oh! yonder comes mamma and—Uncle Grey! No; that is not my uncle Grey. Who can it be? It is—Sir Roger!"
Hattie ran out to meet her mother, who had been to New York; and Felix frowned, took up his crutches, and put on his hat.
Edna turned and went to her own room, and in a few moments Hattie brought her a package of letters, and a message from Mrs. Andrews, desiring her to come back to the sitting-room.
Glancing over the directions the governess saw that all the letters were from strangers, except one from Mrs. Murray, which she eagerly opened. The contents were melancholy and unexpected. Mr. Hammond had been very ill for weeks, was not now in immediate danger, but was confined to his room; and the physicians thought that he would never be well again. He had requested Mrs. Murray to write, and beg Edna to come to him, and remain in his house. Mrs. Powell was in Europe with Gertrude and Gordon, and the old man was alone in his home, Mrs. Murray and her son having taken care of him thus far. At the bottom of the page Mr. Hammond had scrawled almost illegibly: "My dear child, I need you. Come to me at once."
Mrs. Murray had added a postscript to tell her that if she would telegraph them upon what day she could arrange to start, Mr. Murray would come to New York for her.
Edna put the letter out of sight, and girded herself for a desperate battle with her famishing heart, which bounded wildly at the tempting joys spread almost within react. The yearning to go back to the dear old parsonage, to the revered teacher, to cheer and brighten his declining days, and, above all, to see Mr. Murray's face, to hear his voice once more, oh! the temptation was strong indeed, and the cost of resistance bitter beyond precedent. Having heard incidentally of the reconciliation that had taken place, she knew why Mr. Hammond so earnestly desired her presence in a house where Mr. Murray now spent much of his time; she knew all the arguments, all the pleadings to which she must listen, and she dared not trust her heart.
"Enter not into temptation!" was the warning which she uttered again and again to her own soul; and though she feared the pastor would be pained, she felt that he would not consider her ungrateful—knew that his warm, tender heart would understand hers.
Though she had always studiously endeavored to expel Mr. Murray from her thoughts, there came hours when his image conquered; when the longing, the intense wish to see him was overmastering; when she felt that she would give ten years of her life for one long look into his face, or for a picture of him.
Now, when she had only to say, "Come!" and he would be with her, she sternly denied her starving heart, and instead of bread gave it stones and serpents.
She took her pen to answer the letter, but a pang which she had learned to understand told her that she was not now strong enough; and, swallowing some medicine which Dr. Howell had prescribed, she snatched up a crimson scarf and went down to the beach.
The serenity of her countenance had broken up in a fearful tempest, and her face writhed as she hurried along to overtake Felix. Just now she dreaded to be alone, and yet the only companionship she could endure was that of the feeble cripple, whom she had learned to love, as woman can love only when all her early idols are in the dust.
"Wait for me, Felix!"
The boy stopped, turned, and limped back to meet her, for there was a strange, pleading intonation in her mournfully sweet voice.
"What is the matter, Miss Earl? You look troubled."
"I only want to walk with you, for I feel lonely this evening."
"Miss Earl, have you seen Sir Roger Percival?"
"No, no; why should I see him? Felix, my darling, my little brother! do not call me Miss Earl any longer. Call me Edna. Ah, child! I am utterly alone; I must have somebody to love me. My heart turns to you."
She passed her arm around the boy's shoulders and leaned against him, while he rested on his crutches and looked up at her with fond pride.
"Edna! I have wanted to call you so since the day I first saw you. You know very well that I love you better than every thing else in the world. If there is any good in me, I shall have to thank you for it; if ever I am useful, it will be your work. I am wicked still; but I never look at you without trying to be a better boy. You do not need me—you who are so great and gifted; whose writings everybody reads and admires; whose name is already famous. Oh! you can not need any one, and, least of all, a poor little helpless cripple! who can only worship you, and love the sound of your voice better than all the music that ever was played! If I thought that you, Miss Earl—whose book all the world is talking about—if I thought you really cared for me—Oh, Edna! Edna! I believe my heart would be too big for my poor little body!"
"Felix, we need each other. Do you suppose I would have followed you out here, if I did not prefer your society to that of others?"
"Something has happened since you sang the 'Three Fishers' and sat looking out of the window an hour ago. Your face has changed. What is it, Edna? Can't you trust me?"
"Yes. I received a letter which troubles me. It announces the feeble health of a dear and noble friend, who writes begging me to come to him, and nurse and remain with him as long as he lives. You need not start and shiver so—I am not going. I shall not leave you; but it distresses me to know that he has asked an impossible thing. Now you can understand why I did not wish to be alone."
She leaned her cheek down on the boy's head, and both stood silent, looking over the wide heaving waste of immemorial waters.
A glowing orange sky overarched an orange ocean, which slowly became in turn ruby, and rose, and violet, and pearly gray, powdered with a few dim stars. As the rising waves broke along the beach, the stiffening breeze bent the spray till it streamed like silvery plumes; and the low musical murmur swelled to a monotonous moan, that seemed to come over the darkening waters like wails of the lost from some far, far "isles of the sea."
Awed by the mysterious solemnity which ever broods over the ocean, Felix slowly repeated that dirge of Tennyson's, "Break, break, break!" and when he commenced the last verse, Edna's voice, low and quivering, joined his.
Out of the eastern sea, up through gauzy cloud-bars, rose the moon, round, radiant, almost full, shaking off the mists, burnishing the waves with a ghostly lustre.
The wind rose and fluttered Edna's scarlet scarf like a pirate's pennon, and the low moan became a deep, sullen, ominous mutter.
"There will be a gale before daylight; it is brewing down yonder at the southwest. The wind has veered since we came out. There! did you notice what a savage snort there was in that last gust?"
Felix pointed to the distant water-line, where now and then a bluish flash of lightning showed the teeth of the storm raging far away under southern constellations, extinguishing for a time the golden flame of Canopus.
"Yes, you must go in, Felix. I ought not to have kept you out so long."
Reluctantly she turned from the beach, and they had proceeded but a few yards in the direction of the house when they met Mrs. Andrews and her guest.
"Felix, my son! Too late, too late for you! Come in with me. Miss Earl, as you are so fond of the beach, I hope you will show Sir Roger all its beauties. I commit him to your care."
She went toward the house with her boy, and as Sir Roger took Edna's hand and bent forward, looking eagerly into her face, she saw a pained and startled expression cross his own.
"Miss Earl, did you receive a letter from me written immediately after the perusal of your book?"
"Yes, Sir Roger, and your cordial congratulations and flattering opinion were, I assure you, exceedingly gratifying, especially as you were among the first who found anything in it to praise."
"You have no idea with what intense interest I have watched its reception at the hands of the press, and I think the shallow, flippant criticisms were almost as nauseous to me as they must have been to you. Your book has had a fierce struggle with these self- consecrated, red-handed, high-priests of the literary Yama; but its success is now established, and I bring you news of its advent in England, where it has been republished. You can well afford to exclaim with Drayton:
'We that calumnious critic may aschew, That blasteth all things with his poisoned breath. Detracting what laboriously we do Only with that which he but idly saith.'
The numerous assaults made upon you reminded me constantly of the remarks of Blackwood a year or two since: 'Formerly critics were as scarce and formidable, and consequently as well known as mastiffs in a country parish; but now no luckless traveller can show his face in a village without finding a whole pack yelping at his heels.' Fortunately, Miss Earl, though they show their teeth, and are evidently anxious to mangle, they are not strong enough to do much harm. Have you answered any of these attacks?"
"No, sir. Had I ever commenced filling the sieve of the Danaides, I should have time for nothing else. If you will not regard me as exceedingly presumptuous, and utterly ridiculous by the comparison, I will add that, with reference to unfavorable criticism, I have followed the illustrious example of Buffon, who said, when critics opened their batteries, 'Je n'ai jamais repondu a aucune critique, et je garderai le meme silence sur celle-ci.'"
"But, my dear Miss Earl, I see that you have been accused of plagiarizing. Have you not refuted this statement?"
"Again I find Buffon's words rising to answer for me, as they did for himself under similar circumstances, 'Il vaut mieux laisser ces mauvaises gens dans l'incertitude!' Moreover, sir, I have no right to complain, for if it is necessary in well-regulated municipalities to have inspectors of all other commodities, why not of books also! I do not object to the rigid balancing—I wish to pass for no more than I weigh; but I do feel inclined to protest sometimes, when I see myself denounced simply because the scales are too small to hold what is ambitiously piled upon them, and my book is either thrown out pettishly, or whittled and scraped down to fit the scales. The storm, Sir Roger, was very severe at first—nay, it is not yet ended; but I hope, I believe I shall weather it safely. If my literary bark had proved unworthy and sprung a leak and foundered, it would only have shown that it did not deserve to live; that it was better it should go down alone and early, than when attempting to pilot others on the rough unknown sea of letters. I can not agree with you in thinking that critics are more abundant now than formerly. More books are written, and consequently more are tabooed; but the history of literature proves that, from the days of Congreve,
'Critics to plays for the same end resort That surgeons wait on trials in a court; For innocence condemned they've no respect Provided they've a body to dissect.'
After all, it cannot be denied that some of the best portions of Byron's and Pope's writings were scourged out of them by the scorpion thongs of adverse criticism; and the virulence of the Xenien Sturm waged by Schiller and Goethe against the army of critics who assaulted them, attests the fact that even appreciative Germany sometimes nods in her critical councils. Certainly I have had my share of scourging; for my critics have most religiously observed the warning of 'Spare the rod and spoil the child'; and henceforth if my writings are not model, well-behaved, puritanical literary children, my censors must be exonerated from all blame, and I will give testimony in favor of the zeal and punctuality of these self-elected officials of the public whipping-post. The canons have not varied one iota for ages; if authors merely reflect the ordinary normal aspect of society, without melodramatic exaggeration or ludicrous caricature, they are voted trite, humdrum, commonplace, and live no longer than their contemporaries. If they venture a step in advance, and attempt to lead, to lift up the masses, or to elevate the standard of thought and extend its range, they are scoffed at as pedants, and die unhonored prophets; and just as the tomb is sealed above them, people peer more closely into their books, and whisper, 'There is something here after all; great men have been among us.' The next generation chants paeans, and casts chaplets on the graves, and so the world rings with the names of ghosts, and fame pours generous libations to appease the manes of genius slaughtered on the altar of criticism. Once Schiller said, 'Against public stupidity the gods themselves are powerless.' Since then, that same public lifted him to the pedestal of a demi-god; now all Germany proudly claims him; and who shall tell us where sleep his long-forgotten critics? Such has been the history of the race since Homer groped through vine-clad Chios, and poor Dante was hunted from city to city. If the great hierarchs of literature are sometimes stabbed while ministering at the shrine, what can we humble acolytes expect but to be scourged entirely out of the temple? We all get our dues at last; for yonder, among the stars, Astraea laughs at man's valuations, and shakes her infallible balance and re-weighs us."
She had crossed her arms on the low stone wall that enclosed the lawn, and bending forward, the moon shone full on her face, and her eyes and her thoughts went out to sea. Her companion stood watching her countenance, and some strange expression there recalled to his mind that vivid description:
"And then she raised her head, and upward cast Wild looks from HOMELESS EYES, whose liquid light Gleamed out between the folds of blue-black hair, As gleam twin lakes between the purple peaks Of deep Parnassus, at the mournful moon."
After a short silence, Sir Roger said:
"Miss Earl, I can find no triumph written on your features, and I doubt whether you realize how very proud your friends are of your success."
"As yet, sir, it is not assured. My next book will determine my status in literature; and I have too much to accomplish—I have achieved too little, to pause and look back, and pat my own shoulder, and cry, Io triumphe! I am not so indifferent as you seem to imagine. Praise gratifies, and censure pains me; but I value both as mere gauges of my work, indexing the amount of good I may or may not hope to effect. I wish to be popular—that is natural, and, surely, pardonable; but I desire it not as an end, but as a means to an end—usefulness to my fellow-creatures;
'And whether crowned or crownless, when I fall, It matters not, so as God's work is done.'
I love my race, I honor my race; I believe that human nature, sublimated by Christianity, is capable of attaining nobler heights than pagan philosophers and infidel seers ever dreamed of. And because my heart yearns toward my fellow-creatures, I want to clasp one hand in the warm throbbing palm of sinful humanity, and with the other hold up the lamp that God gave me to carry through this world, and so struggle onward, heavenward, with this generation of men and women. I claim no clear Uriel vision, now and then I stumble and grope; but at least I try to keep my little lamp trimmed, and I am not so blind as some, who reel and stagger in the Maremme of crime and fashionable vice. As a pilgrim toiling through a world of sinful temptation, and the night of time where the stars are often shrouded, I cry to those beyond and above me, 'Hold high your lights, that I may see my way!' and to those behind and below me, 'Brothers! sisters! come on, come up!' Ah! these steeps of human life are hard enough to climb when each shares his light and divides his neighbor's grievous burden. God help us all to help one another! Mecca pilgrims stop in the Valley of Muna to stone the Devil; sometimes I fear that in the Muna of life we only stone each other and martyr Stephen. Last week I read a lecture on architecture, and since then I find myself repeating one of the passages: 'And therefore, lastly and chiefly, you must love the creatures to whom you minister, your fellow-men; for if you do not love them, not only will you be little interested in the passing events of life, but in all your gazing at humanity, you will be apt to be struck only by outside form, and not by expression. It is only kindness and tenderness which will ever enable you to see what beauty there is in the dark eyes that are sunk with weeping, and in the paleness of those fixed faces which the earth's adversity has compassed about, till they shine in their patience like dying watch-fires through twilight.' In some sort I think we are all mechanics—moral architects, designing as apprentices on the sands of time that which, as master builders, we shall surely erect on the jasper pavements of eternity. So let us all heed the noble words."
She seemed talking rather to herself, or to the surging sea where her eyes rested, than to Sir Roger; and as he noticed the passionless pallor of her face, he sighed, and put his hands on hers.
"Come, walk with me on the beach, and let me tell you why I came back to New York, instead of sailing from Canada, as I once intended."
A half hour elapsed, and Mrs. Andrews, who was sitting alone on the piazza, saw the governess coming slowly up the walk. As she ascended the steps, the lady of the house exclaimed:
"Where is Sir Roger?"
"He has gone."
"Well, my dear! Pardon me for anticipating you, but as I happen to know all about the affair, accept my congratulations. You are the luckiest woman in America."
Mrs. Andrews put her arm around Edna's waist, but something in the countenance astonished and disappointed her.
"Mrs. Andrews, Sir Roger sails to-morrow for England. He desired me to beg that you would excuse him for not coming to bid you good- bye."
"Sails to-morrow! When does he return to America?"
"Edna Earl, you are an idiot! You may have any amount of genius, but certainly not one grain of common sense! I have no patience with you! I had set my heart on seeing you his wife."
"But, unfortunately for me, I could not set my heart on him. I am very sorry. I wish we had never met, for indeed I like Sir Roger. But it is useless to discuss what is past and irremediable. Where are the children?"
"Asleep, I suppose. After all, show me 'a gifted woman, a genius,' and I will show you a fool."
Mrs. Andrews bit her lip, and walked off; and Edna went upstairs to Felix's room.
The boy was sitting by the open window, watching gray clouds trailing across the moon, checkering the face of the mighty deep, now with shadow, now with sheen. So absorbed was he in his communing with the mysterious spirit of the sea, that he did not notice the entrance of the governess until he felt her hand on his shoulder.
"Ah! have you come at last? Edna, I was wishing for you a little while ago, for as I sat looking over the waves, a pretty thought came into my mind, and I want to tell you about it. Last week, you remember, we were reading about Antony and Cleopatra; and just now, while I was watching a large star yonder making a shining track across the sea, a ragged, hungry-looking cloud crept up, and nibbled at the edge of the star, and swallowed it! And I called the cloud Cleopatra swallowing her pearl!"
Edna looked wonderingly into the boy's bright eyes, and drew his head to her shoulder.
"My dear Felix, are you sure you never heard that same thought read or quoted? It is beautiful, but this is not the first time I have heard it. Think, my dear little boy; try to remember where you saw it written."
"Indeed, Edna, I never saw it anywhere. I am sure I never heard it either; for it seemed quite new when it bounced into my mind just now. Who else ever thought of it?"
"Mr. Stanyan Bigg, an English poet, whose writings are comparatively unknown in this country. His works I have never seen, but I read a review of them in an English book, which contained many extracts; and that pretty metaphor which you used just now, was among them."
"Is that review in our library?"
"No, I am sure it is not; but you may have seen the lines quoted somewhere else."
"Edna, I am very certain I never heard it before. Do you recollect how it is written in the Englishman's poem? If you can repeat it, I shall know instantly, because my memory is very good."
"I think I can give you one stanza, for I read it when I was in great sorrow, and it made an impression upon me:
'The clouds, like grim black faces, come and go; One tall tree stretches up against the sky; It lets the rain through, like a trembling hand Pressing thin fingers on a watery eye. The moon came, but shrank back, like a young girl Who has burst in upon funereal sadness; One star came—Cleopatra-like, the Night Swallowed this one pearl in a fit of madness!'
"Well, Felix, you are a truthful boy, and I can trust you!"
"I never heard the poetry before, and I tell you, Edna, the idea is just as much mine as it is Mr. Biggs's!"
"I believe you. Such coincidences are rare, and people are very loath to admit the possibility; but that they do occasionally occur, I have no doubt. Perhaps some day when you write a noble poem, and become a shining light in literature, you may tell this circumstance to the world; and bid it beware how it idly throws the charge of plagiarism against the set teeth of earnest, honest workers."
"Edna, I look at my twisted feet sometimes, and I feel thankful that it is my body, not my mind, that is deformed. If I am ever able to tell the world anything, it will be how much I owe you; for I trace all holy thoughts and pretty ideas to you and your music and your writings."
They sat there awhile in silence, watching heavy masses of cloud darken the sea and sky; and then Felix lifted his face from Edna's shoulder, and asked timidly:
"Did you send Sir Roger away?"
"He goes to Europe to-morrow, I believe."
"Poor Sir Roger! I am sorry for him. I told mamma you never thought of him; that you loved nothing but books and flowers and music."
"How do you know that?"
"I have watched you, and when he was with you I never saw that great shining light in your eyes, or that strange moving of your lower lip, that always shows me when you are really glad; as you were that Sunday when the music was so grand; or that rainy morning when we saw the pictures of the 'Two Marys at the Sepulchre.' I almost hated poor Sir Roger, because I was afraid he might take you to England, and then, what would have become of me? Oh! the world seems so different, so beautiful, so peaceful, as long as I have you with me. Everybody praises you, and is proud of you, but nobody loves you, as I do."
He took her hand, passed it over his cheek and forehead, and kissed it tenderly.
"Felix, do you feel at all sleepy?"
"Not at all. Tell me something more about the animalcula that cause the phosphorescence yonder—making the top of each wave look like a fringe of fire. It is true that they are little round things that look like jelly—so small that it takes one hundred and seventy, all in a row, to make an inch; and that a wineglass can hold millions of them?"
"I do not feel well enough to-night to talk about animalcula. I am afraid I shall have one of those terrible attacks I had last winter. Felix, please don't go to bed for a while at least; and if you hear me call, come to me quickly. I must write a letter before I sleep. Sit here, will you, till I come back?"
For the first time in her life she shrank from the thought of suffering alone, and felt the need of a human presence.
"Edna, let me call mamma. I saw this afternoon that you were not well."
"No, it may pass off; and I want nobody about me but you."
Only a narrow passage divided her room from his; and leaving the door open, she sat down before her desk to answer Mr. Hammond's appeal.
As the night wore on, the wind became a gale; the fitful, bluish glare of the lightning showed fearful ranks of ravenous waves scowling over each others' shoulders; a roar as of universal thunder shook the shore, and in the coral-columned cathedral of the great deep, wrathful ocean played a wild and weird fugue.
Felix waited patiently, listening amid the dead diapason of wind and wave, for the voice of his governess. But no sound came from the opposite room; and at last, alarmed by the omnious silence, he took up his crutches and crossed the passage.
The muslin curtains, blown from their ribbon fastenings, streamed like signals of distress on the breath of the tempest, and the lamplight flickered and leaped to the top of its glass chimney.
On the desk lay two letters addressed respectively to Mr. Hammond and Mrs. Murray, and beside them were scattered half a dozen notes from unknown correspondents, asking for the autograph and photograph of the young author.
Edna knelt on the floor, hiding her face in the arms which were crossed on the lid of the desk.
The cripple came close to her and hesitated a moment, then touched her lightly:
"Edna, are you ill, or are you only praying?"
She lifted her head instantly, and the blanched, weary face reminded the boy of a picture of Gethsemane, which, having once seen, he could never recall without a shudder.
"Forgive me, Felix! I forgot that you were waiting—forgot that I asked you to sit up."
She rose, took the thin little form in her arms, and whispered:
"I am sorry I kept you up so long. The pain has passed away. I think the danger is over now. Go back to your room, and go to sleep as soon as possible. Good-night, my darling."
They kissed each other and separated; but the fury of the tempest forbade all idea of sleep, and thinking of the "Fisher Folk" exposed to its wrath, governess and pupil committed them to Him who calmed the Galilean gale.
"The sea was all a boiling, seething froth, And God Almighty's guns were going off, And the land trembled."
The Greek myth concerning Demophoon embodies a valuable truth, which the literary career of Edna Earl was destined to exemplify. Harsh critics, like disguised Ceres, plunged the young author into the flames; and fortunately for her, as no short-sighted, loving Metanira snatched her from the fiery ordeal, she ultimately obtained the boon of immortality. Her regular contributions to the magazine enhanced her reputation, and broadened the sphere of her influence.
Profoundly impressed by the conviction that she held her talent in trust, she worked steadily, looking neither to the right nor left, but keeping her eyes fixed upon that day when she should be called to render an account to Him who would demand His own with interest. Instead of becoming flushed with success, she grew daily more cautious, more timid, lest inadvertence or haste should betray her into errors. Consequently as the months rolled away, each magazine article seemed an improvement on the last, and lifted her higher in public favor. The blacksmith's grandchild had become a power in society.
Feeling that a recluse life would give her only partial glimpses of that humanity which she wished to study, she moved in the circle of cultivated friends who now eagerly stretched out their arms to receive her; and "keeping herself unspotted from the world," she earnestly scrutinized social leprosy, and calmly watched the tendency of American thought and feeling.
Among philosophic minds she saw an inclination to ignore the principles of such systems as Sir William Hamilton's, and to embrace the modified and subtle materialism of Buckle and Mill, or the gross atheism of Buchner and Moleschott. Positivism in philosophy and pre- Raphaelitism in art, confronted her in the ranks of the literary,— lofty idealism seemed trodden down—pawed over by Carlyle's "Monster Utilitaria."
When she turned to the next social stratum she found altars of mammon-groves of Baal, shining Schoe Dagonset up by business men and women of fashion. Society appeared intent only upon reviving the offering to propitiate evil spirits; and sometimes it seemed thickly sprinkled with very thinly disguised refugee Yezidees, who, in the East, openly worshipped the Devil.
Statesmen were almost extinct in America—a mere corporal's guard remained, battling desperately to save the stabbed constitution from howling demagogues and fanatics, who raved and ranted where Washington, Webster, and Calhoun had once swayed a free and happy people. The old venerated barriers and well-guarded outposts, which decorum and true womanly modesty had erected on the frontiers of propriety, were swept away in the crevasse of sans souci manners that threatened to inundate the entire land; and latitudinarianism in dress and conversation was rapidly reducing the sexes to an equality, dangerous to morals and subversive of all chivalric respect for woman.
A double-faced idol, fashion and flirtation, engrossed the homage of the majority of females, while a few misguided ones, weary of the inanity of the mass of womanhood and desiring to effect a reform, mistook the sources of the evil, and, rushing to the opposite extreme, demanded power, which as a privilege they already possessed, but as a right could not extort.
A casual glance at the surface of society seemed to justify Burke's conclusion, that "this earth is the bedlam of our system"; but Edna looked deeper, and found much that encouraged her, much that warmed and bound her sympathies to her fellow-creatures. Instead of following the beaten track she struck out a new path, and tried the plan of denouncing the offence, not the offender; of attacking the sin while she pitied the sinner.
Ruthlessly she assaulted the darling follies, the pet, velvet-masked vices that society had adopted, and called the reading world to a friendly parley; demanding that men and women should pause and reflect in their mad career. Because she was earnest and not bitter, because the white banner of Christian charity floated over the conference ground, because she showed so clearly that she loved the race whose recklessness grieved her, because her rebukes were free from scorn, and written rather in tears than gall, people turned their heads and stopped to listen.
So it came to pass that finally, after toiling over many obstacles, she reached the vine-clad valley of Eshcol.
Each day brought her noble fruitage, as letters came from all regions of the country, asking for advice and assistance in little trials of which the world knew nothing. Over the young of her own sex she held a singular sway; and orphan girls of all ranks and ages wrote of their respective sorrows and difficulties, and requested her kind counsel. To these her womanly heart turned yearningly; and she accepted their affectionate confidence as an indication of her proper circle of useful labor.
Believing that the intelligent, refined, modest Christian women of the United States were the real custodians of national purity, and the sole agents who could successfully arrest the tide of demoralization breaking over the land, she addressed herself to the wives, mothers, and daughters of America; calling upon them to smite their false gods, and purify the shrines at which they worshipped. Jealously she contended for every woman's right which God and nature had decreed the sex. The right to be learned, wise, noble, useful, in woman's divinely limited sphere; the right to influence and exalt the circle in which she moved; the right to mount the sanctified bema of her own quiet hearthstone; the right to modify and direct her husband's opinions, if he considered her worthy and competent to guide him; the right to make her children ornaments to their nation, and a crown of glory to their race; the right to advise, to plead, to pray; the right to make her desk a Delphi, if God so permitted; the right to be all that the phrase "noble, Christian woman" means. But not the right to vote; to harangue from the hustings; to trail her heaven-born purity through the dust and mire of political strife; to ascend the rosta of statesmen, whither she may send a worthy husband, son, or brother, but whither she can never go, without disgracing all womanhood.
Edna was conscious of the influence she exerted, and ceaselessly she prayed that she might wield it aright. While aware of the prejudice that exists against literary women, she endeavored to avoid the outre idiosyncrasies that justly render so many of that class unpopular and ridiculous.
She felt that she was a target at which observers aimed random shafts; and while devoting herself to study, she endeavored to give due attention to the rules of etiquette, and the harmonious laws of the toilette.
The friendship between Mr. Manning and herself strengthened, as each learned more fully the character of the other; and an affectionate, confiding frankness marked their intercourse. As her popularity increased she turned to him more frequently for advice, for success only rendered her cautious; and day by day she weighed more carefully all that fell from her pen, dreading lest some error should creep into her writings and lead others astray.
In her publisher—an honorable, kind-hearted, and generous gentleman—she found a valued friend; and as her book sold extensively, the hope of a competency was realized, and she was soon relieved from the necessity of teaching. She was a pet with the reading public; it became fashionable to lionize her; her pictures and autographs were eagerly sought after; and the little, barefooted Tennessee child had grown up to celebrity.
Sometimes, when a basket of flowers, or a handsome book, or a letter of thanks and cordial praise was received from an unknown reader, the young author was so overwhelmed with grateful appreciation of these little tokens of kindness and affection, that she wept over them, or prayed tremulously that she might make herself more worthy of the good opinion entertained of her by strangers.
Mr. Manning, whose cold, searching eye was ever upon her, could detect no exultation in her manner. She was earnestly grateful for every kind word uttered by her friends and admirers, for every favorable sentence penned about her writings; but she seemed only gravely glad, and was as little changed by praise as she had been by severe animadversion. The sweet, patient expression still rested on her face, and her beautiful eyes beamed with the steady light of resignation rather than the starry sparkle of extravagant joy.
Sometimes when the editor missed her at the literary reunions, where her presence always contributed largely to the enjoyment of the evening, and sought her in the schoolroom, he was often surprised to find her seated beside Felix, reading to him or listening to his conversation with a degree of interest which she did not always offer to the celebrities who visited her.
Her power over the cripple was boundless. His character was as clay in her hands, and she was faithfully striving to model a noble, hallowed life; for she believed that he was destined to achieve distinction, and fondly hoped to stamp upon his mind principles and aims that would fructify abundantly when she was silent in the grave.
Mrs. Andrews often told her that she was the only person who had ever controlled or influenced the boy—that she could make him just what she pleased; and she devoted herself to him, resolved to spare no toil in her efforts to correct the evil tendencies of his strong, obstinate, stormy nature.
His fondness for history, and for all that involved theories of government, led his governess to hope that at some future day he might recruit the depleted ranks of statesmen—that he might reflect lustre upon his country; and with this trust spurring her ever one, she became more and more absorbed in her schemes for developing his intellect and sanctifying his heart. People wondered how the lovely woman, whom society flattered and feted, could voluntarily shut herself up in a schoolroom, and few understood the sympathy which bound her so firmly to the broad-browed, sallow little cripple.
One December day, several months after their return from the seaside, Edna and Felix sat in the library. The boy had just completed Prescott's "Philip II.," and the governess had promised to read to him Schiller's "Don Carlos" and Goethe's "Egmont," in order to impress upon his memory the great actors of the Netherland revolution. She took up the copy of "Don Carlos," and crossing his arms on the top of his crutches, as was his habit, the pupil fixed his eyes on her face.
The reading had continued probably a half-hour, when Felix heard a whisper at the door, and, looking over his shoulder, saw a stranger standing on the threshold. He rose; the movement attracted the attention of the governess, and, as she looked up, a cry of joy rang through the room. She dropped the book and sprang forward with open arms.
"Oh, Mrs. Murray! dear friend!"
For some moments they stood locked in a warm embrace, and as Felix limped out of the room he heard his governess sobbing.
Mrs. Murray held the girl at arm's length, and as she looked at the wan, thin face, she exclaimed:
"My poor Edna! my dear little girl! why did not you tell me you were ill? You are a mere ghost of your former self. My child, why did you not come home long ago? I should have been here a month earlier, but was detained by Estelle's marriage."
Edna looked vacantly at her benefactress, and her lips whitened as she asked:
"Did you say Estelle—was married?"
"Yes, my dear. She is now in New York with her husband. They are going to Paris—"
"She married your—" The head fell forward on Mrs. Murray's bosom, and as in a dream she heard the answer:
"Estelle married that young Frenchman, Victor De Sanssure, whom she met in Europe. Edna, what is the matter? My child!"
She found that she could not rouse her, and in great alarm called for assistance.
Mrs. Andrews promptly resorted to the remedies advised by Dr. Howell; but it was long before Edna fully recovered, and then she lay with her eyes closed, and her hands clasped across her forehead.
Mrs. Murray sat beside the sofa weeping silently, while Mrs. Andrews briefly acquainted her with the circumstances attending former attacks. When the latter was summoned from the room and all was quiet, Edna looked up at Mrs. Murray, and tears rolled over her cheeks as she said:
"I was so glad to see you, the great joy and the surprise overcame me. I am not as strong as I used to be in the old happy days at Le Bocage, but after a little I shall be myself. It is only occasionally that I have these attacks of faintness. Put your hand on my forehead, as you did years ago, and let me think that I am a little child again. Oh, the unspeakable happiness of being with you once more!"
"Hush! do not talk now, you are not strong enough!"
Mrs. Murray kissed her, and tenderly smoothed the hair back from her blue-veined temples, where the blood still fluttered irregularly.
For some minutes the girl's eyes wandered eagerly over her companion's countenance, tracing there the outlines of another and far dearer face, and finding a resemblance between mother and son which she had never noticed before. Then she closed her eyes again, and a half smile curved her trembling mouth, for the voice and the touch of the hand seemed indeed Mr. Murray's.
"Edna, I shall never forgive you for not writing to me, telling me frankly of your failing health."
"Oh! scold me as much as you please. It is a luxury to hear your voice even in reproof."
"I knew mischief would come of this separation from me. You belong to me, and I mean to have my own, and take proper care of you in future. The idea of your working yourself to a skeleton for the amusement of those who care nothing about you is simply preposterous, and I intend to put an end to such nonsense."
"Mrs. Murray, why have you not mentioned Mr. Hammond? I almost dread to ask about him."
"Because you do not deserve to hear from him. A grateful and affectionate pupil you have proved, to be sure. Oh, Edna! what has come over you, child? Are you so intoxicated with your triumphs that you utterly forget your old friends, who loved you when you were unknown to the world? At first I thought so. I believed that you were heartless, like all of your class, and completely wrapped up in ambitious schemes. But, my little darling, I see I wronged you. Your poor white face reproaches me for my injustice, and I feel that success has not spoiled you; that you are still my little Edna—my sweet child—my daughter. Be quiet now, and listen to me, and try to keep that flutter out of your lips. Mr. Hammond is no worse than he has been for many months, but he is very feeble, and can not live much longer. You know very well that he loves you tenderly, and he says he can not die in peace without seeing you once more. Every day, when I go over to the parsonage, his first question is, 'Ellen, is she coming?—have you heard from her?' I wish you could have seen him when St. Elmo was reading your book to him. It was the copy you sent; and when we read aloud the joint dedication to him and to myself, the old man wept, and asked for his glasses, and tried to read it, but could not. He—"
Edna put out her hand with a mute gesture, which her friend well understood, and she paused and was silent; while the governess turned her face to the wall and wept softly, trying to compose herself.
Ten minutes passed, and she said: "Please go on now, Mrs. Murray, and tell me all he said. You can have no idea how I have longed to know what you all at home thought of my little book. Oh! I have been so hungry for home praise! I sent the very earliest copies to you and to Mr. Hammond, and I thought it so hard that you never mentioned them at all."
"My dear, it was my fault, and I confess it freely. Mr. Hammond, of course, could not write, but he trusted to me to thank you in his name for the book and the dedication. I was really angry with you for not coming home when I wrote for you; and I was jealous of your book, and would not praise it, because I knew you expected it. But because I was silent, do you suppose I was not proud of my little girl? If you could have seen the tears I shed over some of the eulogies pronounced upon you, and heard all the ugly words I could not avoid uttering against some of your critics, you could not doubt my thorough appreciation of your success. My dear, it is impossible to describe Mr. Hammond's delight, as we read your novel to him. Often he would say: 'St. Elmo, read that passage again. I knew she was a gifted child, but I did not expect that she would ever write such a book as this.' When we read the last chapter he was completely overcome, and said, repeatedly, 'God bless my little Edna! It is a noble book, it will do good—much good!' To me it seems almost incredible that the popular author is the same little lame, crushed orphan, whom I lifted from the grass at the railroad track, seven years ago."
Edna had risen, and was sitting on the edge of the sofa, with one hand supporting her cheek, and a tender, glad smile shining over her features, as she listened to the commendation of those dearer than all the world beside. Mrs. Murray watched her anxiously, and sighed, as she continued:
"If ever a woman had a worshipper, you certainly possess one in Huldah Reed. It would be amusing, if it were not touching, to see her bending in ecstasy over everything you write; over every notice of you that meets her eye. She regards you as her model in all respects. You would be surprised at the rapidity with which she acquires knowledge. She is a pet of St. Elmo's, and repays his care and kindness with a devotion that makes people stare; for you know my son is regarded as an ogre, and the child's affection for him seems incomprehensible to those who only see the rough surface of his character. She never saw a frown on his face or heard a harsh word from him, for he is strangely tender in his treatment of the little thing. Sometimes it makes me start when I hear her merry laugh ringing through the house, for the sound carries me far back into the past, when my own children romped and shouted at Le Bocage. You were always a quiet, demure, and rather solemn child; but this Huldah is a gay little sprite. St. Elmo is so astonishingly patient with her, that Estelle accuses him of being in his dotage. Oh, Edna! it would make you glad to see my son and that orphan child sitting together reading the Bible. Last week I found them in the library; she was fast asleep with her head on his knee, and he sat with his open Bible in his hand. He is so changed in his manner that you would scarcely know him, and oh! I am so happy and so grateful, I can never thank God sufficiently for the blessing!"
Mrs. Murray sobbed, and Edna bent her own head lower in her palms.
For some seconds both were silent. Mrs. Murray seated herself close to the governess, and clasped her arms around her.
"Edna, why did you not tell me all? Why did you leave me to find out by accident that which should have been confided to me?"
The girl trembled, and a fiery spot burned on her cheeks as she pressed her forehead against Mrs. Murray's bosom, and said hastily:
"To what do you allude?"
"Why did you not tell me that my son loved you, and wished to make you his wife? I never knew what passed between you until about a month ago, and then I learned it from Mr. Hammond. Although I wondered why St. Elmo went as far as Chattanooga with you on your way North, I did not suspect any special interest, for his manner betrayed none when, after his return, he merely said that he found no one on the train to whose care he could commit you. Now I know all—know why you left Le Bocage; and I know, too, that in God's hands you have been the instrument of bringing St. Elmo back to his duty—to his old noble self! Oh! Edna, my child! if you could know how I love and thank you! How I long to fold you in my arms—so! and call you my daughter! Edna Murray—St. Elmo's wife! Ah! how proud I shall be of my own daughter! When I took a little bruised, moaning, homespun-clad girl into my house, how little I dreamed that I was sheltering unawares the angel who was to bring back happiness to my son's heart, and peace to my own!"
She lifted the burning face, and kissed the quivering lips repeatedly.
"Edna, my brave darling! how could you resist St. Elmo's pleading? How could you tear yourself away from him? Was it because you feared that I would not willingly receive you as a daughter? Do not shiver so—answer me."
"Oh! do not ask me! Mrs. Murray, spare me! This is a subject which I cannot discuss with you."
"Why not, my child? Can you not trust the mother of the man you love?"
Edna unwound the arms that clasped her, and rising, walked away to the mantelpiece. Leaning heavily against it, she stood for some time with her face averted, and beneath the veil of long, floating hair Mrs. Murray saw the slight figure sway to and fro, like a reed shaken by the breeze.
"Edna, I must talk to you about a matter which alone brought me to New York. My son's happiness is dearer to me than my life, and I have come to plead with you, for his sake, if not for your own, at least to—"
"It is useless! Do not mention his name again! Oh, Mrs. Murray! I am feeble to-day; spare me! Have mercy on my weakness!"
She put out her hand appealingly, but in vain.
"One thing you must tell me. Why did you reject him?"
"Because I could not respect his character. Oh! forgive me! You force me to say it—because I knew that he was unworthy of any woman's confidence and affection."
The mother's face flushed angrily, and she rose and threw her head back with the haughty defiance peculiar to her family.
"Edna Earl, how dare you speak to me in such terms of my own son? There is not a woman on the face of the broad earth who ought not to feel honored by his preference—who might not be proud of his hand. What right have you to pronounce him unworthy of trust? Answer me!"
"The right to judge him from his own account of his past life. The history which he gave me condemns him. His crimes make me shrink from him."
"Crimes? take care, Edna! You must be beside yourself! My son is no criminal! He was unfortunate and rash, but his impetuosity was certainly pardonable under the circumstances."
"All things are susceptible of palliation in a mother's partial eyes," answered the governess.
"St. Elmo fought a duel, and afterward carried on several flirtations with women who were weak enough to allow themselves to be trifled with; moreover, I shall not deny that at one period of his life he was lamentably dissipated; but all that happened long ago, before you knew him. How many young gentlemen indulge in the same things, and are never even reprimanded by society, much less denounced as criminals? The world sanctions duelling and flirting, and you have no right to set your extremely rigid notions of propriety above the verdict of modern society. Custom justifies many things which you seem to hold in utter abhorrence. Take care that you do not find yourself playing the Pharisee on the street corners."
Mrs. Murray walked up and down the room twice, then came to the hearth.
"Well, Edna, I am waiting to hear you."
"There is nothing that I can say which would not wound or displease you; therefore, dear Mrs. Murray, I must be silent."
"Retract the hasty words you uttered just now; they express more than you intended."
"I cannot! I mean all I said. Offences against God's law, which you consider pardonable—and which the world winks at and permits, and even defends—I regard as grievous sins. I believe that every man who kills another in a duel deserves the curse of Cain, and should be shunned as a murderer. My conscience assures me that a man who can deliberately seek to gain a woman's heart merely to gratify his vanity, or to wreak his hate by holding her up to scorn, or trifling with the love which he has won, is unprincipled, and should be ostracized by every true woman. Were you the mother of Murray and Annie Hammond, do you think you could so easily forgive this murderer?"
"Their father forgives and trusts my son, and you have no right to sit in judgment upon him. Do you suppose that you are holier than that white-haired saint whose crown of glory is waiting for him in heaven?? Are you so much purer than Allan Hammond that you fear contamination from one to whom he clings?"
"No—no—no! You wrong me! If you could know how humble is my estimate of myself, you would not taunt me so cruelly; you would only—pity me!"
The despairing agony in the orphan's voice touched Mrs. Murray's proud heart, and tears softened the indignant expression of her eyes, as she looked at the feeble form before her.
"Edna, my poor child, you must trust me. One thing I must know—I have a right to ask—do you not love my son? You need not blush to acknowledge it to me."
She waited awhile, but there was no reply, and softly her arm stole around the girl's waist.
"My daughter, you need not be ashamed of your affection for St. Elmo."
Edna lifted her face from the mantel, and clasping her hands across her head, exclaimed:
"Do I love him? Oh! none but God can ever know how entirely my heart is his! I have struggled against his fascination—oh! indeed I have wrestled and prayed against it! But to-day—I do not deceive myself- -I feel that I love him as I can never love any other human being. You are his mother, and you will pity me when I tell you that I fall asleep praying for him—that in my dreams I am with him once more— that the first thought on waking is still of him. What do you suppose it cost me to give him up? Oh! is it hard, think you, to live in the same world and yet never look on his face, never hear his voice? God only knows how hard! If he were dead, I could bear it better. But, ah! to live with this great sea of silence between us— a dreary, cold, mocking sea, crossed by no word, no whisper, filled only with slowly, sadly sailing ghosts of precious memories! Yes, yes! despite all his unworthiness—despite the verdict of my judgment, and the upbraiding of my conscience—I love him! I love him! You can sympathize with me. Do not reproach me; pity me, oh! pity me in my feebleness!"
She put out her arms like a weary child and dropped her face on Mrs. Murray's shoulder.
"My child, if you had seen him the night before I left home, you could not have resisted any longer the promptings of your own heart. He told me all that had ever passed between you; how he had watched and tempted you; how devotedly he loved you; how he reverenced your purity of character; how your influence, your example, had first called him back to his early faith; and then he covered his face and said, 'Mother! mother! if God would only give her to me, I could, I would be a better man!' Edna, I feel as if my son's soul rested in your hands! If you throw him off utterly, he may grow desperate, and go back to his old habits of reckless dissipation and blasphemy; and if he should! oh! if he is lost at last, I will hold you accountable, and charge you before God with his destruction! Edna, beware! You have a strange power over him; you can make him almost what you will. If you will not listen to your own suffering heart, or to his love, hear me! Hear a mother pleading for her son's eternal safety!"
The haughty woman fell on her knees before the orphan and wept, and Edna instantly knelt beside her and clung to her.
"I pray for him continually. My latest breath shall be a prayer for his salvation. His eternal welfare is almost as precious to me as my own; for if I get to heaven at last, do you suppose I could be happy even there without him? But, Mrs. Murray, I can not be his wife. If he is indeed conscientiously striving to atone for his past life, he will be saved without my influence; and if his remorseful convictions of duty do not reform him, his affection for me would not accomplish it. Oh! of all mournful lots in life, I think mine is the saddest! To find it impossible to tear my heart from a man whom I distrust, whom I can not honor, whose fascination I dread. I know my duty in this matter—my conscience leaves me no room to doubt— and from the resolution which I made in sight of Annie's grave, I must not swerve. I have confessed to you how completely my love belongs to him, how fruitless are my efforts to forget him. I have told you what bitter suffering our separation costs me, that you may know how useless it is for you to urge me. Ah! if I can withstand the wailing of my own lonely, aching heart, there is nothing else that can draw me from the path of duty; no, no! not even your entreaties, dear Mrs. Murray, much as I love and owe you. God, who alone sees all, will help me to bear my loneliness. He only can comfort and sustain me; and in His own good time He will save Mr. Murray, and send peace into his troubled soul. Until then, let us pray patiently."